Apr 30, 2010


Everything seemed to be going so well between Ukraine and Russia (minus a few tiffs in the Ukrainian parliament). Russia renewed its lease to its Black Sea naval base and Ukraine got a discount on natural gas, in exchange for consideration of Russian entry into the Ukrainian energy sector of course.

Today we saw what was behind door number two when Prime Minister Putin freaked out everyone at a press conference following some follow-on Ukrainian-Russian discussions in Sochi. In an allegedly impromptu announcement, he suggested that Gazprom and Naftogaz (Ukraine's national gas and oil company) merge into one conglomerate.

Ex Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has already denounced this suggestion as a Russian plot to deprive her country of sovereignty and is calling on her website for people "to work out an effective plan for ousting Yanukovych." Personally, I agree with the New York Times assessment that this is likely an aggressive haggling maneuver to get Russia a greater share of Ukrainian assets. Maybe the talks didn't go as well as planned and he decided to show the Yanukovych team that he was willing to toss them to the whims of a disgruntled populous? It certainly wasn't a move calculated to return Ukrainian politics to a sense of normalcy...

Apr 29, 2010

Spotlight on Stratgey 31

I'm embarassed to say I just recently heard about "Strategy 31", but according to opendemocracy.net, not many Russians have heard of it either, so I thought I'd spotlight it today, because I think it could have great potential.

Strategy-31 is a spontaneous civic movement which, since 31 July 2009, has regularly held protest meetings in defence of freedom of assembly in Russia. They are held on the 31st day of every month which has 31 days. In Moscow they take place in Triumfalnaya Square. They are intended to both promote and defend the right to hold peaceful demonstrations, as enshrined in article 31 of the Russian Constitution

To date, Moscow authorities have not approved a single Strategy-31 protest. Not shocking. Moscow authorities and Russian authorities in general are quite good at using bureacratic measures to stimy criticism.

And it's perfectly legal. In fact, there are new laws under consideration. There is, for example, a proposal to introduce a notification procedure for one-off pickets, and to allow officials to ban a public meeting on the grounds of “insufficient information”.

Well good luck Strategy-31 activists. It's a tough battle. I'll keep trying to do my part in giving you more visibility. See you in May!

Russian and Azerbaijani Journalist Murder Cases Make Top 10

Here's a top ten list I never wanted to see our region in, but I can't say I'm surprised. The Committee to Protect Journalists recently posted a special report on the Ten Journalist Murder Cases to Solve. Among the ten listed: #2 Anna Politkovskaya of Russian and #9 Elmar Huseynov of Azerbaijan. Politkovskaya was murdered in 2006, Huseynov in 2005.

They are listed with other murdered journalists from countries such as Sri Lanka, Iraq, and Pakistan. These are countries with not exactly stable governments. Russia and Azerbaijan can and should do better to ensure the justice of its citizens. That's my 2 cents.

Apr 27, 2010

Eggs and Smoke Bombs

Throwing shoes has really gone out of style.

According to YahooNews, lawmwakers brawled, threw eggs at each other and set off smoke bombs in Ukraine's parliament Tuesday as the legislature erupted into chaos over a vote allowing the Russian navy to keep using a port on the Black Sea. Keeping it klassy. The extension passed with 236 votes in the 450-member parliament, but opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko vowed it wouldn't last.

Opposition parliament members threw eggs at speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn as he opened the session in the Verkhovna Rada, forcing him to preside while shielded by a black umbrella held by an aide. Two smoke bombs were set off, and deputies shouted their opinions about the squeal of a smoke alarm.

Some parliament members scuffled and the opposition Our Ukraine-People's Self-Defense bloc said one of its legislators was hospitalized with a concussion after fighting with members of Yanukovych's party.

Who brings eggs and smoke bombs to Parliament?! Come on, Ukraine!

Android Karenina?!?!

"Android Karenina: an enhanced edition of the classic love story set in a strange new world of robots, cyborgs, and interplanetary travel...As in the original novel, our story follows two relationships: the tragic adulterous romance of Anna Karenina and Count Alexei Vronsky, and the much more hopeful marriage of Nikolai Levin and Kitty Shcherbatskaya. These four, yearning for true love, live in a steampunk-inspired 19th century of mechanical butlers, extraterrestrial-worshiping cults, and airborne debutante balls. Their passions alone would be enough to consume them—but when a secret cabal of radical scientific revolutionaries launches an attack on Russian high society’s high-tech lifestyle, our heroes must fight back with all their courage, all their gadgets, and all the power of a sleek new cyborg model like nothing the world has ever seen."

Goes on sale in June 2010....maybe I'll like this version better?

Dom u Dorogi v Patonge

Hey there folks! Just came back from an extended stay in Asia. And I come back with a bone to pick with a restaurant, located in Patong Beach, Pkuket, Thailand. This restaurant is called "Dom u dorogi/Russian Roadhouse", and here are all the reasons I hated it and no self respecting Russian or Russophile should ever go there.

1. While the menu is in Russian, none of the staff speaks Russian and thus can't understand what you're ordering at all!

2. Beer selection. Obvious items missing from the beer lists, um, BALTIKA! Also, no zolotaya bochka, a personal fave.

3. So there was a whole page in the menu called "Drinks for Serious People" and the Thai lady boy waiting on me said he/she couldn't make any of them, including a "Red Russian", which as far as I could tell was just vodka and cherry juice. No idea why that wasn't possible.

4. I patented a "Red Russian" as a "Blushin' Russian Bride" years ago! (cherry juice and vodka, get it?)

5. I said black bread, not rye bread!

6. My potato should have been smothered with mushroom sauce not mushrooms and soy!

7. The blini were clearly straight from the McGriddle, and I think I even saw an M in the dough. And btw, American pancakes are not blini and don't go well with sour cream.

8. When my friend refused to pay for the blini, we had the cops called on us.

Dear Dom u dorogi in Phuket. I hate you. You exist to disappoint. PS. Thanks for the free rakia, but I still hate you.

I swear I'll go back to hard hitting items by tomorrow. I just had to get this off my chest.

Apr 20, 2010

Put Away Your Bubbles

On Sunday a group of 500 teens gathered for a "flash mob" at the Gorkovskaya metro station in St Petersburg. In spite of the misleading title of "flash mob" this group gathered to celebrate spring the best way they could think of...blowing bubbles. (Why don't we do that where I live??)

Unfortunately this annual celebration known as “Dream Flash” or“Soapy Peter” was crashed by some bubble hating, neo-nazis who mistook the frivolity for a gay pride event... because bubbles give off rainbow colors... and brought not only fists but guns. It seems that a group of gay activists may have planned to hold a gay pride event during the bubbling, which may have been the source of confusion.

Apparently, once the police showed up and the assailants ran away the bubblers kept on bubbling in spite of police admonishments to “Put away the bubbles and disperse." One attacker was reportedly detained, but police also detained about 30 bubble-blowers on suspicion of walking on the grass...Way to keep the peace

Apr 10, 2010

Putin Blatantly Replacing Leaders in the FSU?

For those of you that haven't heard, Polish President Lech Kaczynski along with a group of Polish elites died today when their plane crashed in (guess where) Russia. The Polish leaders had been going to Russia to jointly commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre.

And just earlier this week Putin denies Russia's involvement in the uprising in Kyrgyzstan which has ousted President Bakiyev...three letters KGB (or FSB if we go with the new lingo)

Just remember that ER said it first.

Although unfortunately we are unlikely to be the last, and others may not mean it as facetiously.

On a serious note, prayers and thoughts out to the families and friends of those killed

Apr 8, 2010

Red Line Revolutions

"People should not be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people"

We've all been watching the events unfolding in Kyrgyzstan this week and many were surprised by the speed with which unrest broke out and spread. Early reports introduced comparisons to the "colored revolutions" in Eurasia during the 2000s, but this is a different beast altogether and, in my opinion, something other authoritarian regimes should be far more worried about.

The colored revolutions were catalyzed by protest of perceived (and actual) corruption in an election; electoral revolutions. Although many did have popular support, colored revolutions were often led by a unified opposition which had varying levels of popular presence on the streets during their protests. For me, the most convincing literature analyzing the colored revolutions highlights three key factors 1. use of violence (by protesters and the government) 2. internal instability of the regime in power and 3. unity among the opposition.

Reports suggest that the unrest in Kyrgyzstan was and is spontaneous and largely disorganized. Although the opposition (through a tv appearance by Omurbek Tekebayev) has come forward claiming to have seized the government, there are clear cleavages within the opposition and signs of an impending internal power struggle. Unlike the colored revolutions, both the ruling regime and the protesters have shown willingness to use violence, but unlike other cases the regime's violence has not deterred protesters. Instead, protesters overcame the police and reportedly beat Interior Minister Kongantivev and First Deputy Prime Minister Zhaparov.

Most importantly, these protests are not about electoral fraud, but are connected to economic conditions; a few weeks ago, the government suddenly raised the prices of gas, water and electricity.

Time will show how events will work out in Kyrgyzstan, but what will other authoritarian governments learn from these events (they undoubtedly took lessons from successful and failed colored revolutions)? I think they'll realize, if they hadn't already that even relatively apolitical populations have red lines that cannot be crossed...

Apr 5, 2010

Can you still deport someone to the USSR?

So here's a tricky case highlighted in yesterday's Baltimore Sun.

Four years ago, Mark Denisyuk broke into an apartment in Harford County, Maryland (a great rurual county that has been fighting suburban sprawl for quite sometime, just saying). He fought with the occupants who threw him out and, when police arrived, he was standing outside, drunk, with slurred speech, his shirt and face bloodied. A judge later noted, "He had no realistic defense."

It became clear to Mark that since he is not a US citizen, his conviction meant deportation. So he fought the case. It was re-examined, but the conviction held. And now Mark must be deported. But where to?

Though not a US Citizen, Mark has lived in Harford County since the age of 14, graduated from a local high school and speaks fluent and colloquial English. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals says he is a citizen of Latvia. But Denisyuk was born in 1975 when Latvia was part of the Soviet Union. Moreover, he came to the United States in 1989, two years before Latvia gained independence. And, Mark has no Latvian birth certificate, but oddly enough, he does have one from Kenya, just kidding...

So what to do with Mark? Let's keep an eye on this one. I'd like to see if precedence is set for how to deport someone to a state that no longer exists.